Generalized Anxiety Disorder vs. General Anxiety About the Economy: What's the Difference?

  • If you're like many of us, you might look over today's dismal economic horizon and often feel as if there's no end in sight. Whether you're watching your retirement savings shrink, fretting about how to pay for college, or worrying about a possible layoff-or even if you're happily employed but nervously following the news, you know we live in anxiety-provoking times.

    I'm often asked about the apparent rise of generalized anxiety disorder due to the economy. The good news? There is no rise. The bad news? Normal anxiety is on the rise. So, what's the difference between generalized anxiety disorder and normal anxiety? Read on.

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    Anxiety: Normal

    Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations, such as global economic uncertainty. It's your body telling you to stay alert and protect yourself, these days to watch your spending, try to save for an emergency, work to keep your job, or consult a trusted financial expert.


    Worries about finances have long been a leading cause of anxiety for Americans. When asked what stressed people the most in a recent ADAA online poll, 45 percent responded "personal finances." In another poll, nearly 77 percent said the economic downturn has caused a moderate amount to "a lot of stress."

    If so many people share such deep stress and worry about their bank balances than they did before this financial free fall, does that mean they all have an anxiety disorder? Does it mean anxiety disorders are on the rise? The answer: No.

    Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Serious

    You may have generalized anxiety disorder if you worry about the economy or your finances for many hours every day, you can't sleep or perform your usual tasks, and you're aware that your fears are irrational.

    Also known as GAD, this type of anxiety disorder differs greatly from the normal anxiety we may feel about the economy or any other stressful event. GAD is not triggered by a specific situation. The world doesn't need to experience an economic downfall for someone to have GAD. Even in the best of times, GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, in any given year, and women are twice as likely to be affected.

    People with generalized anxiety disorder experience persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about issues like money, health, family, or work for six months or longer. They don't know how to stop the worry cycle, which they feel is beyond their control. Physical symptoms of GAD may include fatigue, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, edginess, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea.

    Help: Available

    Like other anxiety disorders, GAD can be treated.  Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a short-term form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying, understanding, and modifying thinking and behavior patterns. It teaches skills for handling anxiety, which people can use when needed to control their worries.  


    Some people find that medication is helpful; the FDA has approved several antidepressants for the treatment of GAD. Often, a combination of CBT and medication is most effective.

  • Anxiety disorders are real, serious, and treatable, and like many people who have overcome them, you can, too.

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    For more help, visit the ADAA website:

    ·         Find a therapist in your area.

    ·         Locate a support group.

    ·         Receive Triumph, the ADAA e-newsletter, and other relevant news bulletins.

    ·         Purchase self-help books and an ADAA inspirational calendar with antistress tips in the online bookstore.

    PLEASE NOTE: The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) does not endorse or promote any specific medications or treatments.


Published On: May 15, 2009